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Student Engagement and Collaboration

This page contains a collection of resources that can be used to foster student engagement in an online classroom, as well as virtual collaboration between students. The Community of Inquiry (CoI) approach to course design (exemplary course should include all three):

  1. Social presence (learner-learner engagements)
  2. Teaching presence (instructor presence in the course)
  3. Cognitive presence (learner engagement with the course materials)

Enhancing Social Presence (learner-learner engagement)

In some online courses, student engagement exists primarily between the student and the computer. While this may be efficient and maximize flexibility, increasing student interaction with each other can lead to more effective learning and higher satisfaction overall with the course. Here are some methods to foster student-student engagement.

  • Tools such as Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate can be used to offer students a space to interact with each other virtually. You may want to post a tutorial for students on how to get started using these programs.
  • Consider which elements of your course you can offer asynchronously, and which ones are best delivered via “live sessions” in Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate. Keep in mind that students may have difficulty connecting to live sessions due to a lack of reliable internet and/or conditions at home. If you do offer live sessions, consider making them optional.
  • Blackboard has many other tools designed to promote student-to-student engagement, including:
    • Wikis: Create an editable document, where students can continuously add or edit material, and leave comments for others.
    • Blogs: Create a course, small group, and/or individual blogs, where students can add and edit posts and content.
    • Groups: Create workgroups in Blackboard to allow students to collaborate on projects.
  • Breakout Rooms: In Zoom meetings, you can assign students to groups in “Breakout Rooms,” where they can discuss a topic with each other. Groups can be any size. This feature can be useful in small in-class discussions, or students can open their own Zoom meetings outside of class to meet virtually with other students for group projects.
  • Discussion Boards can be a great way to engage students with the material, and with each other, at the same time. Below are some resources for encouraging productive discussion board interactions:
  • Perusall is a free social annotation program, where students can not only annotate their readings electronically, but can collaborate on readings, figuring out the content together. Click this link to access the Perusall site.
  • Flipgrid is a free online program where students can create short videos on a given prompt, and classmates can comment /interact with each other’s videos. Click this link to access the Flipgrid site.

Enhancing Teaching Presence (learner - instructor engagement)

One of the struggles of teaching in the online format is how an instructor can truly be “present” and engage with their students, without the benefit of a physical classroom. Here are some ways that instructors can be more present when teaching an online course.

  • Be clear in establishing how students should contact you as the instructor. Possible options include:
    • E-mail
    • Texts
    • Skype/Zoom/Collaborate
    • Virtual Office (in Blackboard)
  • Create a short video (less than 3 minutes) introducing yourself and the course.
  • Personal responses improve student learning. Even if responding to a question about when the next Zoom meeting is scheduled, students feel more confident about what is expected of them when they contact their professor and get a timely response.
  • If you have concerns about a student’s level of involvement in your course, set up a time to talk to them individually or send them a note. Occasional personal check-ins, especially when you are concerned about a student, may be helpful.
  • Keep in mind that just as faculty members may be overwhelmed with emails, texts, social media posts, etc., students may be overwhelmed also. When communicating with your class, be intentional. Make sure that you know why you are sending the communication, and what you expect students to do in response.
  • Foster meaningful discussion through open-ended questions
  • Provide audio/video feedback on assignments/discussion boards. This helps students remember that an actual instructor is there to help them.

Enhancing Cognitive Presence (learner engagement with the course materials)

Course material can be presented to online learners using a wide array of methods, which will enhance engagement with and understanding of the content. Sometimes, such methods may be unknown or seem intimidating. Here are some creative ways that online instructors can promote student engagement with the material.

  • No student wants to be in multiple online classes that are all taught the same way. Vary your instructional methods when possible, to avoid boredom.
  • Announce major deadlines early, and provide plenty of clarity on assignment expectations. Allow ample time for questions to come in and be answered.
  • Keep in mind that coordination and teamwork in a virtual setting take extra time. When using group work, be sure to allow enough time for students to meet virtually.
  • Provide frequent opportunities for formative testing and feedback. 
  • Offer self-testing, practice assignments, and learning activities that provide immediate feedback (quizzes, interactives). 
  • When creating your course content, consider the multiple ways you can represent your content, and try to offer your content in multiple modalities. 
  • Video: Ways you can enhance student involvement in online instruction [10:12]
  • There are many technological tools that can help faculty find new ways to present materials. Click here to access a list of teaching tools.
  • The Noel Studio offers online, one-on-one consultations, where students can meet with a consultant for help with a variety of assignments.
  • Faculty members can request a consultation regarding their course via the Noel Studio. Visit this link for information.

If you need help with Instructional design services, Quality Matters, or online teaching, please contact the Instructional Design Center (IDC).

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